The San Diego History Center hosts dozens of public programs and special events every year. Our popular adult programs include walking tours, lectures, exhibition receptions, curators’ talks, happy hours, fashion events, multi-media presentations, films, musical presentations, symposia and collaborative events with other cultural and educational institutions. We also offer family-themed programs such as readings and workshops, and we participate in Balboa Park-wide events such as Family Days and holiday celebrations.
Programs are offered at both the History Center in Balboa Park and the Serra Museum in Presidio Park.
For more information: Calendar
History Center members believe in our mission to tell the diverse story of our region – past, present and future – educate and enrich our community, preserve our history, and foster civic pride. Join Now
San Diego: California’s Cornerstone Lecture and Book Signing Event with author and historian, Dr. Iris Engstrand
Engaging Exhibitions About San Diego – Past, Present & Future
THE LORE BEHIND THE ROAR!
100 Years of the San Diego Zoo
Celebrating the centennial of our world-famous neighbor, THE LORE BEHIND THE ROAR! 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo tells the story of its humble 1915 beginnings to its evolution as one of the world’s great zoos and international tourist attractions. This colorful family-friendly exhibition features giant animal sculptures and interactive exhibits exploring the Zoo’s famed veterinary and surgical care and the Frozen Zoo. The Roar Family Den features the Animal Dinner Table and the Life of a Zookeeper.
IRVING J. GILL: New Architecture for a Great Country
The History Center is the hub of a collaborative exhibition on San Diego architect Irving J. Gill (1870-1936), a founder of modern architecture. Gill influenced generations of American architects and builders. His revolutionary ideas on building aesthetics and technology permanently impacted the building arts. This exhibition traces Gill’s life and work from New York to Chicago and finally to California where he developed his vision of a new architecture —modernism.
Film: BALBOA PARK: The Jewel of San Diego
Featuring stunning aerial vistas juxtaposed with historic images, this documentary film provides an introduction to Balboa Park for visitors. Using state-of-the-art motion graphics, three-dimensional mapping, an original sound track and photomontages, the 30-minute capsule history explores the Park from the heights of the California Tower to underground museum collections – an unforgettable visual experience.
Buy Historic Photos
View Our Renowned Collection of Historic Photos
SAN DIEGO HISTORY More than 2.5 million historic images, including the entire collection of the San Diego Union-Tribune prior to 1981, are widely used in businesses and residences. One of the largest regional photography collections in the West, our Photograph Collection includes images of San Diego dating to the 1860s documenting the early history of our community as well as contemporary photographs – back country vistas to downtown skylines, cultural icons to sports heroes.
BALBOA PARK The stewards of our community heritage, we document San Diego regional history through our vast collection, particularly our assemblage of Balboa Park photographs over the past 100 years. Images include delightful and fascinating portfolios of both the 1915 and 1935 Expositions as well as rare and stunning views of this architecturally iconic and historic urban cultural park, the nation’s largest, and its lush gardens, ravines – and the San Diego Zoo!
SAN DIEGO SCENES Easily accessible in our Research Library and online, the extensive Photograph Collection includes historic images of the vibrant neighborhoods and diverse cultures that comprise San Diego – then and now. See how downtown and San Diego’s neighborhoods developed and changed over time, with images of street scenes, shops, businesses and houses. Explore the many interesting and varied people who bring our community to life. Search for your business, home or neighborhood!
Two Historic Sites Offer an Unforgettable Experience
THE SERRA MUSEUM Located in historic Presidio Park, the beautiful Junipero Serra Museum offers a stunning setting for a unique wedding or social event. The architecturally iconic mission-style building was constructed in 1929 and sits above San Diego’s historic Old Town. Centrally located, the Serra boasts spectacular city and ocean views. The arcaded outdoor terrace and intimate interior gallery create a perfect historical atmosphere for private events, meetings or retreats for 140 guests.
THE SAN DIEGO HISTORY CENTER Located in the heart of San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park, the San Diego History Center offers an exceptional historic architectural setting for private events, featuring our spacious grand Atrium, ideal for corporate events, wedding receptions and birthday parties, including gallery tours. The History Center features engaging exhibitions that will enhance any event, party or celebration. Adjacent to the Atrium is our Thornton Theatre, with state-of-the-art AV, as an added amenity.
THE SAN DIEGO HISTORY CENTER For small groups seeking off-site meeting locations, the San Diego History Center houses our Atrium, Thornton Theater and Conference Room. Both are perfect for meetings, lectures and conferences, each providing a unique location. The Thornton Theatre is a versatile space adaptable to your needs, with state-of-the-art AV. For a more intimate setting, the Conference Room is an affordable option for small groups. Gallery tours can be packaged with all facility rentals.
LEARN We are a center of lifelong learning and enrichment. Our education programs inspire and enlighten, educating the community about San Diego and our diverse heritage. Offering a variety of interactive and multi-sensory educational programs, we serve many audiences – adults, families, youth, students, teachers, seniors. We are also a valuable educational resource for teachers throughout San Diego County. Through outreach programs like our Speaker’s Bureau, we also bring history to you!
RESEARCH Open to the public, the Research Library houses the Document Archives and the Photograph Collection, the region’s largest collection of historical materials comprising 45 million documents and 2.5 million images. We serve researchers, students and the general public on site and online. The oral history collection is one of the most important on the West Coast, documenting 150 years of regional history. We also publish the Journal of San Diego History.
COLLECTIONS Over 17,000 items represent our region’s diverse history from the Kumeyaay to contemporary San Diego. In nearly 90 years of collecting, the History Center’s Object Collections are one of the largest repositories of local historic artifacts. The collections also include one of the finest historic clothing collections in the U.S., a decorative arts collection and a historically significant collection of San Diego artwork, particularly early 20th century plein air masters. (Image of Donal Hord sculpture courtesy of Carina Woolrich).